Opera Scotland

Soldaten Die Soldaten; The Soldiers

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Bernd Alois Zimmermann (born Bliesheim, Cologne, 20 March 1918; died Königsdorf, Cologne, 10 August 1970)


The composer


Play (1776) by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792).



First performance: Cologne (Opernhaus), 15 February 1965.

First UK performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 21 August 1972.

First performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



Die Soldaten rapidly gained a reputation as a brilliant piece of music theatre, arguably one of the most impressive of its time, while being extremely difficult to perform. The forces required and the demands made on them are huge, and whether the work justifies that expenditure is debatable. The Edinburgh performances were hugely impressive, but it took three decades before ENO became the first British company to mount the work, and that production has not been revived. The work is one of unrelenting seriousness, with Marie, a middle-class girl loved by Stolzius, being seduced by Desportes, an army officer, after which she takes to a life of prostitution. It does seem to contain elements derived from both Wozzeck and Lulu, and by comparison with those two masterpieces, it does seem to fall somewhat short.


Main Characters

Wesener, a merchant (bass)

Marie, his elder daughter (soprano)

Stolzius, a draper (baritone)

Desportes (tenor)

Countess de la Roche (mezzo-soprano)

Young Count de la Roche, her son (tenor)


Plot Summary

Marie’s father is a shopkeeper in Lille, and she is engaged to marry Stolzius, who trades in nearby Armentières. Marie is also being courted by Desportes, an aristocratic army officer, but her father warns her to be wary of the soldiers’ moral shortcomings. Other officers are as interested in Marie, and they openly discuss Desportes’ seduction plans with Stolzius. He and Marie’s old grandmother are both unable to prevent the seduction.  Stolzius now joins up, taking a post of batman to one of the officers. Countess de la Roche, a wealthy philanthropist whose son has also been attracted to Marie, decides to save her, and she gives Marie a job as her companion. However Marie runs away, and, while Desportes is in prison, she is raped by his gamekeeper. When Desportes has dinner with Capt Mary, they are waited on by Stolzius, who is Mary’s batman. He takes the opportunity to poison Desportes, and then impales himself on the captain’s sword.. Some time later, Marie’s degradation is such that she is not recognised by her own father.

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